New Delhi: Caste and community equations are the two main factors that are likely to influence the elections to Delhi’s seven Lok Sabha seats, during which over 13.6 million people will vote on 12 May.
In Delhi, all three major political parties—the Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party—are trying their best to woo their respective caste and community constituencies.
Once known as a constituency of the rich, South Delhi, which elected popular leaders such as Balraj Madhok, Lalit Maken of the Congress and Madan Lal Khurana, Sushma Swaraj and Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the BJP, has lost its elite sheen after the delimitation exercise of 2008. Post delimitation, affluent colonies such as Greater Kailash, Hauz Khas and R.K. Puram were carved out of it, leaving the South Delhi constituency with a number of urban villages and slums.
With the maximum number of its voting segments coming from these villages and slums, the South Delhi seat has become a hot-bed of caste politics in the national capital, from where AAP’s Raghav Chadha, BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri and Congress’ Vijender Singh are in the poll fray.
AAP’s Raghav Chadha, who belongs to a Punjabi family, is banking on voters from his community as South Delhi has a substantial number of Punjabi voters, mostly concentrated near the Jungpura area. BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri, a Gujjar, is trying to keep his Jat and Gujjar voters intact. He is also trying to add to his kitty Poorvanchali and OBC voters. On the other hand, Congress’ Vijender Singh’s main focus is on the Jat, Yadav and Scheduled Caste (SC) voters of the area.
With nearly 16.7 lakh voters, the South Delhi Parliamentary constituency has 10 Assembly segments—Bijwasan, Palam, Mehrauli, Chhatarpur, Deoli, Ambedkar Nagar, Sangam Vihar, Kalkaji, Tughlakabad and Badarpur.
According to Delhi government’s demographic data, the South Delhi constituency has 33% OBC population, 18.5% SC, 9.39% Brahmins, 9.04% Gujjars, 6% Muslims, 5.29% Punjabis, 5% Jats, 4.40% Banias, 2.1% others including Bengalis and South Indians. Poorvanchalis as a voter segment alone constitute 15% of the constituency.
Ramesh Bidhuri told The Sunday Guardian, “I belong to a Gujjar family, but as a leader, I have received blessings from voters belonging to all castes and religions. Jats, Gujjars, OBCs and Poorvanchalis—all have given their support to me and this helped me in winning the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.”
“Delhi’s voters are not going to get divided on caste lines and fall prey to AAP’s false promises and negative politics. In my opinion, this election is just to re-elect Narendra Modi as our Prime Minister,” Bidhuri said.
Congress’ Vijender Singh is a Jat candidate. Political pundits say that if the Jat voters get divided on this seat and this leads to similar results as in 2014, then the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls might be surprising on this seat.
In 2014, AAP’s Col Devinder Sehrawat, a Jat leader, had secured 390,980 votes and it is thought that a good chunk of Jat, Poorvanchali, and Yadavs had supported Sehrawat.
Angad Singh, a close aide of Vijender Singh, who is also a part of the Congress’ campaign team in the area, told The Sunday Guardian: “I don’t know whether the Jat votes will get split or not, but during our campaign we are getting huge support of voters from across caste and community. Voters of the South Delhi constituency are coming out to meet Vijender Singh and showing their love for him. We expect good results for our party (Congress) from this seat.”
On the other hand, with 1,447,228 (as per 2014 estimates) voters, Chandni Chowk, the smallest parliamentary constituency in Delhi, is well divided on community and caste lines and this might affect the fate of the candidates in fray. This constituency is going to witnesses a battle between AAP’s Pankaj Gupta, BJP’s incumbent MP Harsh Vardhan and Congress’ J.P. Agarwal.
As per the Delhi government’s demographic data, the constituency has a Muslim voter base of 15%, which was 30% before delimitation. The percentages of Scheduled Castes and OBCs have gone up to around 25% and 20% respectively after the 2008 delimitation exercise. The Vaish community accounts for around 10%.
Poll observers say that Muslims place little faith in the BJP, not because they don’t like Harsh Vardhan, but because voting for Narendra Modi may separate them from the community in the area. BJP is still a popular choice among the traders in this constituency.
Praveen Khandelwal, office bearer of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a prominent trade body, told The Sunday Guardian: “Traders have already decided to give their support to the BJP as the community thinks that the party, under the leadership of Narendera Modi, has done a lot for the community and a second term will see many more reforms.”
With a total of 2,194,425 voters, North-West Delhi is a reserved constituency for the Scheduled Castes and here, the BJP has denied the ticket to incumbent MP Udit Raj and has fielded Hans Raj Hans instead. While AAP’s Guggan Singh is in the fray here, the Congress has put up Rajesh Lilothia as its candidate. The constituency has a Scheduled Caste population of 697,237.
This time, the Lok Sabha polls on the East Delhi seat has become interesting as the BJP, dropping its incumbent MP Maheish Girri, has fielded Gautam Gambhir, a cricketer-turned-politician who will take on AAP’s Atishi Marlena and Congress’ Arvinder Singh Lovely.
Of East Delhi constituency’s 1,829,578 voters, a sizable number are Poorvanchali voters. The constituency also has Paharis, Jats and Muslims.
While Gambhir is banking on his cricket fame and the BJP’s core supporters in the area, AAP’s Atishi is trying to capture the Poorvanchali voters. Congress’ Lovely is hoping to get the support of Jats (20%), Punjabis (a small chunck) and the Scheduled Caste voters. The constituency has elected several popular leaders, including H.K.L. Bhagat of Congress and Lal Bihari Tiwari of BJP in the past.
Arvinder Singh Lovely told The Sunday Guardian: “I have grown up in this constituency and have a special relationship with every family member living in the area. I don’t see any logic why voters will opt for an outsider as their leader who has no experience of Delhi’s politics and has never been on the ground with the people.”
The constituencies of North-East Delhi and West Delhi, having a substantial chunk of Poorvanchali voters, are pinning their hopes on BJP candidate Manoj Tiwari, Congress’s stalwart Sheila Dikshit and AAP’s Dilip Pandey in the North-East seat, and BJP candidate Parvesh Verma (incumbent), Congress’ old guard Mahabal Mishra and AAP’s new face Balbir Singh Jakhad for West Delhi.
Both constituencies have a sizeable number of Poorvanchali voters. Singer-actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari and Dilip Pandey of AAP are actively wooing the Poorvanchali voters, while Shiela Diskhit is banking on Muslim and SC voters.
With a total 1,829,578 voters, North-East Delhi has a sizable number of Muslim voters living in Seelampur, Babarpur and Mustafabad Assembly segments. However, the Muslim voters’ mood is not clear although they might turn towards AAP’s Dilip Pandey.
In the West Delhi constituency, AAP’s candidate is being seen as weak in front of BJP’s Parvesh Verma and Mahabal Mishra of Congress. Mishra might get the Poorvanchali vote, while Verma is being seen as an unchallenged leader of Outer Delhi and has a major hold on the Jat and Poorvanchali voters.
Mahabal Mishra, Congress’ candidate from West Delhi, told The Sunday Guardian: “People living in my constituency know my struggle for the development of the area. Voters from across caste and community lines have always given me support. I have a personal connect with our Poorvanchali brothers and sisters who have always embraced me in need. I am confident of getting a huge support.”
Despite speculation about Meenakshi Lekhi’s ouster from the New Delhi seat, the BJP has once again fielded her from there against AAP’s Brijesh Goyal and Congress’ Ajay Maken. With a total 1,490,147 voters, the New Delhi seat is a high profile constituency, which has a number of government offices and is not dominated by any caste or community.